Climate questions in the Arctic

I chose the Global Theme of natural resources and sustainability and the global challenge of sustainable management and technology for the protection of natural resources and biodiversity in the Arctic. At the University Centre in Svalbard I took Arctic Environmental Management, we analyzed the legal, technological, and social context and solutions in case studies on issues in the Arctic. My group researched the impact of cruise ship tourism and what is being done about those impacts. We found a need for more collaboration between Arctic nations on regulations and found that collaboration across scientific, legal and financial stakeholders was already present.  Living on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, I noticed the high environmental impact of the human presence there, but also some benefits. While pollution, wildlife disturbance, and fossil fuel consumption do occur, human presence allows the completion of ecological and climate monitoring, increased awareness of climate change for tourists, and the enforcement of protected area guidelines. Overall, I was surprised to learn how much of environmental management and attempts to adapt to climate change are social issues that come down to the effectiveness of leadership and communication.

In this class I also learned about how environmental management is more centralized and has more ease of cooperation between stakeholders in countries like Norway where there is high trust in the central government. The techniques the Norwegians used for environmental lawmaking failed in Canada and would most likely fail in the USA.  I saw more cultural differences with the cheap price of college tuition and doctors visits, the fact that college students regularly receive governmental living stipends, and the whole week of vacation we got for Easter. On the 17th of May, which is Norway’s national holiday, I saw how patriotism is widespread and celebrated by Norwegians of all political backgrounds. 

Champagne breakfast with my kitchen-mates for May 17th
My attempt in ski jumping competition during some Easter games on an Easter break cabin trip
Exploring the glaciers of Svalbard during Easter
Checking out an ice cave
Me and a group of Scandinavians on a ski-camping trip, also during Easter break

Living in Svalbard strengthened my leadership skills by requiring me to learn new skills quickly to remain safe while on field work and recreating in a harsh environment with people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. For my Research Project in Arctic Biology course I spent days at a time in a remote cabin recording reindeer behavior with a research partner.   This required rifle training, snowmobile practice, cold weather safety, logistical paperwork and communication, and reading lots of scientific papers. Learning these new skills helped me build confidence, practice teamwork across language and cultural barriers, and apply my problem-solving skills to unfamiliar contexts. I worked with professors and doctoral students from around the world who work in Arctic Biology, environmental management, and climate science, who served as academic and professional mentors.

Three female Svalbard reindeer rubbing antlers playfully as we watched from a cabin during field work.
A glimpse into some of the gear required for field work in Arctic conditions in March

At the end of my semester abroad I was hired as a polar bear guard on a ski and sail expedition to Northwest Svalbard with the guiding company, Ice Axe Expeditions. I carried a rifle to protect 8 people from polar bears during daily ski tours. I gained access to high quality mentorship in mountain guiding and used leadership skills in a high consequence environment.

Getting ready to ski down Dronning Mauds Fjell, a mountain in Northwest Svalbard, as a polar bear guard on the ski and sail trip
The ski and sail crew after landing for a ski tour

This beyond the classroom experience made me wonder what I can do to help more people from diverse backgrounds get access to mentorship in science, the outdoors, and with technology. I also questioned what level of human interaction can be justified in sensitive environments and how to ensure a positive human impact on a given ecosystem. I am also curious how environmental management decisions can include the voices of all people inclusively while also being timely. Finally, I wonder what role technology plays in the management of human impacts on the environment and how to make this role a positive one.

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